Back-to-school shopping can get pretty overwhelming for parents, especially when it comes to fashion. It wasn't until a recent back-to-school shopping trip that I realized I buy the same t-shirts and jeans every year. What's worse is that I usually curb the overspending guilt by reminding myself how awesome that 50 percent off loyalty cash is going to be. Never mind the fact that I will have to spend another truckload of money to use it and really only saved 25 percent when it's all said and done.
But what do you do when you have teenagers that feel like they need to maintain their "cool kid" status? One approach is to stop shopping on autopilot and use a few smarts. Here are a few tips I plan to put into practice from now on:
Research the trends:
None of us want to make our kids cringe when it comes to school clothes. Neat and clean can still be fly and hip. Rule number one, when it comes to being frugal about anything, is to educate yourself before you even consider heading out the door to shop. As you start to get the family back into the school day groove, turn on the morning TV shows. This time of year means there will be tons of back-to-school content. Good Morning America, the Today Show and CBS This Morning have all recently featured mini back-to-school fashion shows. If you didn't get to watch it live with your morning coffee, check out their websites. While you're online, do a few searches for more on back-to-school trends. The more you know about what's hot right now, the smarter you can be about sending them back to school in style without going over budget.
Shop the closet:
Now that you're armed with a wealth of teen fashion knowledge, look through every closet in the house, under the beds and in the mystery piles in the scary corners of your kids' rooms. Take a weekend to do a huge laundry wash and don't bother to separate anybody's clothes out for them. I have three teenage girls at home. From time to time, I score big by mixing up their clothes.
Look at that pile of clean laundry with fresh eyes. What pieces will work together well for high impact color blocking? Which pieces fit the urban skater style? And, how can the softer feminine items be recombined into a boho chic look? Whatever you do, don't grab your purse and keys until you've done laundry and cleaned out the closets.
With smart layering, lightweight summer clothes can have a much longer fashion lifespan in the cooler months. Edgy skater looks and vintage boho styles depend on layers. There are lots of options to expand the use of your kids' wardrobes. That girly floral summer dress your daughter loves will look absolutely adorable with a scarf, sweater and leggings. The graphic tee your son wears every chance he gets will make a great base under a plaid shirt and hoodie this fall.
There are hand-me-downs and then there are hand-me-downs. Do you have friends and family members with children close in age to yours? Consider a swap. This is a great option, not just for clothes but shoes, accessories and jewelry. Most likely, your child gave you grief because her cousin got that really cool thing last year. Now she can trade up without spending a dime. Let your penny-pinching imagination run with that one for a moment.
Shop at second-hand stores:
When it comes to creating unique looks that help your kids stand out from the crowd, resale shops are the way to go. Before you buy brand new clothes, take the time to hit up a few late summer yard sales, consignment shops and thrift stores. You already have an excellent idea of what's in your kids' fall wardrobe. Time spent hunting bargains usually pays off in huge savings. When you hit the consignment shop, be sure to take along those items that weren't picked up during the swap, and you might make a little cash rather than spending it.
At the very least, by the time you make it through this process, the urge to go retail shopping will have passed. Now, go have some frugal fun and most importantly, make the first day of school a great one.
Michelle Stinson Ross is the social marketing manager at Offers.com. She's a working mother of three teens and a digital diva who loves a great deal.
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